Well, well. Damian Lillard reportedly wants to play with Ben Simmons in Portland. Ben Simmons has pretty clearly established that he doesn't want to play in Philadelphia. We have the end goal — now, how do we get there?
A good starting point is looking at the possibility of a Sixers-Blazers trade without any third-team involvement. There's more than one way to skin a cat, though the two constants of any prospective deal simply have to be Simmons heading to Portland and CJ McCollum coming to Philly. Whatever surrounding pieces are involved — Robert Covington, Matisse Thybulle, Anfernee Simons, Shake Milton, draft picks, pick swaps, etc. — can be shifted and moved around, but if such a deal were to surface, it would need to include McCollum for talent, financial and logistical reasons. And so that doesn't make for the most exciting hypothetical trade idea... anyone could come up with something along those lines. Besides, it's possible Daryl Morey just doesn't view CJ McCollum as that must-have piece to add to the equation, or doesn't feel that he really fits alongside Tyrese Maxey and Seth Curry — should both of those players remain on the Sixers after such a deal.
So, instead, what we have today is a hypothetical three-team trade that, at least from my perspective, is a realistic deal for all three sides, and a beneficial one at that. We have three teams who should, in theory, be looking for a trade at this point in time given the current status of their organizations. Thanks to ESPN's NBA Trade Machine and Fanspo's trade machine, we know that it's a financially sound agreement. And though it might not be perfect, what trade ever is? That's for the GM of each respective organization to decide, and I'll be more than receptive to their feedback when they inevitably read this post.
So here's what we've got:
Portland Trail Blazers (POR) receive: Ben Simmons (PHI), 2023 second-round pick (PHI)
Philadelphia 76ers (PHI) receive: Brandon Ingram (NOP), Tomas Satoransky (NOP)
New Orleans Pelicans (NOP) receive: CJ McCollum (POR), Shake Milton (PHI), 2023 lottery-protected first-round pick (POR), 2024 first-round pick (PHI), 2022 second-round pick (POR)
Give up: Ben Simmons, Shake Milton, 2024 first-round pick, 2023 second-round pick
Receive: Brandon Ingram, Tomas Satoransky
Ever since Jimmy Butler left, the 76ers haven't had that go-to, shot-creating, iso-scoring presence down the stretch. Enter Brandon Ingram, who can do that with the best of them and in a multitude of ways. Whether splashing treys or slicing through defenses, he's one of the headiest offensive minds in the league — and may not yet be in his prime — and is exactly the type of player you want with the ball in your hand in a close contest. With length, he can provide positional versatility and, though his defense isn't the strongest, he's shown strides and flashes of potential on that end of the floor, especially when his effort is on display.
It's more about the offense, though. Over the past three seasons, Ingram has averaged 23.7 points on 38.4 percent from deep, adding 4.5 assists per game as he's developed as a willing playmaker. He's not an easy cover, either, dissecting defenses and attacking wherever the opportunity presents itself.
Adding Satoransky gives the Sixers a veteran point guard to back up Tyrese Maxey and replace Shake Milton as a ball-handler in the second unit. He's struggled mightily in his first season as a Pelican, but he was recently a solid contributor for the Bulls and has shown that he can certainly facilitate an offense.
Portland Trail Blazers
Give up: CJ McCollum, 2023 lottery-protected first-round pick, 2022 second-round pick
Receive: Ben Simmons, 2023 second-round pick
If the Blazers want to make Damian Lillard happy — and that should be at the very, very top of their list of priorities, so long as they want to retain a fan base — this might be the best way to do so. If the reports are true, Lillard wants Simmons to play next to him, and this is a deal that could get it done. Giving up a first-round pick wouldn't be all that ideal, but if nothing works out and they somehow end up as a lottery team in 2023, they'll be able to retain it.
With Lillard and Simmons, that seems pretty unlikely. You have potentially the best iso scorer in the league, the man with more ice in his veins than anyone at the end of a game, playing with perhaps the best all-around defensive presence that the league has to offer. It might be easy to forget just how dominant Simmons is on that side of the ball now, especially considering he hasn't played all season and has been represented by one iconic non-dunk highlight for the past six months, but he would have to be seen as an upgrade over McCollum if the Blazers want to win with Lillard at the helm.
New Orleans Pelicans
Give up: Brandon Ingram, Tomas Satoransky
Receive: CJ McCollum, Shake Milton, 2023 lottery-protected first-round pick, 2024 first-round pick, 2022 second-round pick
Giving up Brandon Ingram isn't ideal, we'll admit that. But at some point, the Pelicans might just have to admit that his pairing with Zion Williamson — if Williamson can get back on the court before this hypothetical trade goes through — just isn't the pairing that will lead to success. And considering they're out to a 7-19 start, they might just want to throw in the towel on this season and look to build some assets for the future. Moving Ingram would thrust them even further into the mix for the No. 1 overall pick in 2022, and Satoransky is a non-starter, making $10 million on a one-year deal.
What this move would do is build around Williamson for when he eventually returns. It also provides McCollum with an opportunity to really lead a backcourt on his own, something that he hasn't been able to do all that often with Damian Lillard stealing the show in Portland. Who's to say that McCollum isn't a legitimate 30 PPG scorer who, with increased ball-handling responsibility, can feed his teammates and gel with Williamson better than any of the big man's former teammates were able to? Adding Milton gives NOLA a 25-year-old talent who has shown very promising signs of star upside, though he's currently stuck behind a number of names on the Philly depth chart. And adding all those picks helps New Orleans to set their sights where they should be: on adding assets for the future as they attempt to mold a vision of a playoff team.